Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Producer/Director, Kurtis David Harder for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest Mystery/Thriller film, “Spiral”. Spiral takes place in an idyllic little town where same-sex couple Malik and Aaron (played by Jefferey Bowyer-Chapman and Ari Cohen respectively), and the latter’s daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) have just relocated to. Shortly after arriving, the family begins to notice oddities in the behavior of some of their neighbors, which eventually leads to an increase in paranoia in Malik that may be tied to a traumatic experience dating back to his teen years. The film also stars Lochlyn Munro (TV’s Riverdale), Chandra West (White Noise), Ty Wood (TV’s Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina), and Aaron Poole (The Void).
Spiral’s script was co-written by Colin Minihan and John Poliquin, the former having written and directed “What Keeps You Alive”, an impressive and similarly themed paranoia-luring thriller about a lesbian couple’s weekend taking a turn for the worse after secrets come to the surface. Whilst Spiral flips the gender of its protagonists, it treads correspondent waters, doing so again in a fairly isolated location. DP, Bradley Stuckel has gradually been building his resume over the last decade and his attention to detail fully materializes here. Not only does the film open with a great jib-shot over the top of a building and down onto a parked car, but Stuckel also employs a lot of panning and gentle movements as well as an array of great wide shots. The odd focus pull is used effectively and his lighting team does a stellar job with the mix of gorgeous natural light and artificial mood lighting. The audio track is concise and the stratosphere soundscape comes courtesy of Avery Kentis. The score revolves around pleasant ambient strings that drive the drama, but then when the film calls for it, Kentis captures eerie tones that are befitting of the mystery element.
Spiral’s mid-90’s setting is very specific and I can’t help but feel like Minihan and Poliquin went that route perhaps to highlight where society was at in terms of intolerance toward other’s lifestyles, versus the growth we’ve seen in that domain over say the last decade. The pair do so by showcasing some subtle but awkward interactions between Malik and Aaron and their neighbors Marshal and Tiffany, in a similar way to that of Jordan Peele and what he did with his sophomore effort “Get Out”. Performances are really consistent across the board, with Bowyer-Chapman largely responsible for carrying the film, particularly through the second and third acts. He and Cohen completely put themselves out there open and honestly and they deserve credit for that. The supporting players are a positive influence on proceedings and seeing Lochlyn Munro (who’s been in the industry for thirty years) take on a role that requires him to be cold and restrained was something different and unexpected. Spiral is ultimately about memory and perception, and it’s clear from the outset that Malik is mentally scarred and at odds with himself as to what front to present on any given day. There’s certainly a component of social commentary going on here but the film isn’t without it’s Hitchcock like movie moments either. Highlights include a “Disturbia” esq spying sequence, along with an unnerving scene that sees Malik navigate an old and decrepit house (unfortunately the scene is hindered somewhat by a cheap jump scare).
There were a handful of little gripes I had with the film, namely with a few of the lame jump scares and some of the character’s questionable actions. For example, daughter Kayla is at that frustrated age (being 16) where she’s going through puberty and having constant mood changes, etc. Anywho, she takes a liking to Tyler (Ty Wood), and seemingly he to her, but eventually, she discovers that he’s messing around with another girl. The logical response would be for her to confront him about it, or at the very least, be upset or angry, but nope. Short of closing her drapes with some vigor once she witnesses it, there’s zero fallout and then the next time we see the pair they’re kissing. On another occasion, Malik is trying to spy on the neighbors and decides to take a photo with the flash on… not exactly smart. One particular character’s arc felt a little too predictable in the way it was ultimately cut short, and some of the visual techniques don’t fully work. One such interaction sees Malik enter a room with Marshal on one side of him, only to then appear on the other in the very next frame (I understood what they were going for but it still seemed clunky). A couple of particulars, such as the surveillance cameras that are installed and the references to “1:10” don’t appear to ever really go anywhere. The latter may have been the time at which Malik experienced the trauma? And I may have just missed that. The other question I was left with was how did the group obtain compromising photos?
Spiral is just Kurtis Harder’s third feature-length film and I’d wager that it’s his best. Capitalizing on what will hopefully be a continued evolution of acceptance in society regarding different lifestyles, Minihan and Poliquin’s writing finds that sweet spot occupied by underrated gems like “The Invitation” and “Arlington Road”. The cinematography is faultless, the score is appropriately moody, and Harder clearly had complete buy-in from all of the actors. The 1990’s aesthetics are interesting, the characters are perfectly watchable, and my favorite aspect is the way in which the writers manage to pull the proverbial wool of your eyes with Malik’s in-movie writing (I didn’t see that coming at all). The film is a little predictable and somewhat guilty of establishing things that are sometimes rendered moot points, that and Kurtis could’ve done away with those few horror cliches and some of the stretching of credibility in order to make an even tighter film. As it stands, if you’re a fan of controlled thrillers then I can highly recommend Spiral and I look forward to seeing what this trio of writers/producers and directors comes up with next. Below you can check out a tense little clip from the film and be sure to keep an eye out for the official trailer soon!
Spiral – 7/10